For clarity, I’m using the term “sexual violation” to include any action or language that contributes to rape culture, as well as all forms of sexual violence and sexual assault as outlined in this super helpful guide. (Link opens a new tab, so please check it out.)
I’d also like to take the opportunity to assure those of you who know me personally that none of the personal examples in this article refer to my boyfriend, Jordan, whose passion for this topic rivals my own.
Read on, good people of the internet.
I almost didn’t write this article, for the exact reason that it needs to be written.
Sexual violations happen to most of us on a daily basis. We’re bombarded with “jokes” that justify, or even glorify, domestic violence and rape. We walk to our cars at night with our keys between our knuckles like claws. We know not to leave our drinks unattended in public places. We encounter sexual harassment at work, and get catcalled on the way home. It’s such a common thing that it’s almost amazing how many people I know who let these occurrences slide without comment.
There are a lot of reasons why people (particularly women) don’t speak up in the face of sexual violation. (You can read about some of those reasons here.) I’m not here to rehash them, but rather to offer 3 reasons why we need to start addressing violation every. single. time.
It normalizes the experience in a good way.
It was in a therapist’s office that I first told someone that my ex-boyfriend had “consent issues.” My doctor listened as I explained the situation, and then told me point-blank that what I was describing was, in fact, rape, and that I needed to start calling it that.
I knew what he had done to me was sexual assault. It was textbook. But the culture of shame and fear (and, let’s be honest, pity) that surrounds the r word kept me from using it. I didn’t want the big ugly badge of “rape victim.” But when I started to use the word, I discovered that it became less of a dirty smear on my personhood, and more of a bridge that connected me to other people with similar experiences. I stopped feeling less alone, and I healed faster in community than I did in isolation.
It communicates that you are a safe person for others to come to.
Along those same lines, being overt and unapologetic about addressing sexual violations is like a beacon to people who may need an ear. When you call out your coworker for making sexist jokes, you let others in your office know that you take the fight against rape culture very seriously.
Having a community of people who speak openly about sexual assault and all that contributes to it is a powerful and even vital thing. At the onset of loving relationships, when the glasses are particularly rosy, it can be hard to recognize and acknowledge violations from within the relationship. Having someone you can tell may make all the difference when the potential is to remain in a toxic situation until the damage is done.
(As a side note, if you’re new to being a support for a friend who has confessed an encounter with sexual assault to you, these are some good follow-up questions to ask: “Is this the first time they’ve done this?” “Were you able address the situation as soon as it happened?” “What was their attitude when you confronted their behavior?”)
It helps distinguish between slip-ups and habitual offenses.
Before I go further on this one, I want to state for the record that there is never any excuse or justification for willing sexual assault. Ever. But within the realm of personal boundaries, couples can sometimes find themselves encountering issues they didn’t know to watch out for.
Examples of addressing violations that occurred as a result of ignorance of carelessness may sound like: “I’m a lightweight, and I’m not comfortable having sex when I’m intoxicated. In the future, please don’t proposition me when you know I have been drinking,” or “I said no, and you came back ten minutes later and pressured me to change my mind. That felt like coercion, and it’s not okay. In the future, I need you to respect my no as open-ended, and wait for me to come to you when I’ve changed my mind.”
Having these initial confrontations can be a great experience for people who are just getting to know each other. They can provide an opportunity for education, shed light on behaviors people may not realize they have, and (maybe most importantly) show how a person reacts to being confronted when they commit a violation.
Having these conversations more than once, however, is a big red flag. When you address violations every single time they happen, it’s easier to see where ignorance stops, and willing abuse begins. If you find yourself saying “that’s the fourth time you’ve ignored my safe word,” you may be more likely to see the behavior as the abusive habit it actually is.
Honest and open communication is a hallmark of healthy interactions. This blogger is done letting things slide, making excuses for abuse, and downplaying willing violations. It’s time to make speaking up about sexual violations a commonplace thing.